This week, I attended the preview evening for the Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues From Easter Island exhibition at Manchester Museum, which replaced Siberia: At the Edge of the World in the ground floor temporary exhibition space. The exhibition focuses on the famous Moai stone monuments from the island, the centerpiece being the impressive Moai Hava, currently on a five-year loan from the British Museum. Museum director Nick Merriman emphasised in his opening speech just how colossal these Moai statues are – Moai Hava is a relatively small example at just three tonnes but stil took several hours and modern equipment to transport into place in the museum foyer, and also required structural reinforcement of the basement ceiling. There is still much debate about how the much larger statues on the island, which often extend far underground, were quarried, carved and placed in situ by the Rapa Nui islanders,
Chilean Ambassador Sr. Rolando Drago Rodriguez gave more insight into the island and its position as a territory of Chile. This was the first time in Manchester Museum’s long history, in fact, that there has been an exhibition primarily of Chilean artefacts. Prof. Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and the current head of our archaeology department was last to speak, as he and his team have pioneered recent archaeological work on Rapa Nui, which, in collaboration with Merriman and museum archaeologist Brian Sitch, was the catalyst for this exhibition. His speech was witty and anecdotal – in true Colin style- but informative and captivating at the same time!
The exhibition itself is fascinating, if a little sparse – two reconstructions of Moai heads dominate the center of the space and there is a wide range of material, from ethnography to pop culture. One criticism that has been raised is that none of the objects on display have dates. This is understandable with certain artefacts on display as there is still debate of the exact dates the Moai were created, but the dates for artefacts with known provenance are also omitted. This could cause confusion due to the exhibition being a mix of ethnography and modern Western objects which emulate the style of the Moai and could give the impression that Rapa Nui islanders still use the more primitive wooden and stone tools on display, whereas the island has undergone modernisation at much the same rate as other Pacific Islands since its ‘discovery’ by westeners on Easter Sunday 1722. Nevertheless, the exhibition is still well worth a visit and stands as a welcome example of collaboration between the University and the Museum.
Making Monuments on Rapa Nui is open at the Manchester Museum until 6 September 2015.